July 13, 2018
Destination: Baxter Peak, Mt. Katahdin - AT Northern Terminus Today's Miles: 5.20
Start Location: The Birches Campsite Trip Miles: 2190.90
It was chilly when I woke at around 4:45am. I got up and ate my lemon pie and cinnamon roll.
I know, I know.... I packed up camp and got ready to make the last push, the last summit. Ozzie was already gone. Homebound left a little before me, and Frank was still in his tent when I left. I headed to the Ranger station to return the day pack I would not need and to sign the log book, which I had forgotten to do the day before. I stopped at the sign indicating the direction of the AT to Baxter Peak, the top of Mt. Katahdin and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I took a breath. This was it. Now it was time to bring it home.
The portion of the AT that goes up to Baxter Peak is called the Hunt Trail within the park. It started off quite easy and increased in difficulty until I was bouldering my way along steep slopes and over large rocks, sometimes with a few pieces of rebar in them to use as handholds, or footholds. It was the kind of thing that is outside of my comfort zone, but that other climbs (Palmerton, the Whites, Mahoosic) had prepared me for. The weather was beautiful and there was virtually no wind, which was comforting once I was above treeline. I moved slowly and deliberately, finally climbing, hoisting and shimmying my way up to the Tableland, a plateau just before the final ascent to Baxter Peak. From there it was easy. The views were stunning! The climb leading up to the Tableland and then the views from the plateau were truly breathtaking. This was it - the last mountain to climb! I had one more push to make.
As I walked across the Tableland, I felt relieved to have made it with my pack. It was as light as it could be at this moment in my life, at this point in time, and I carried it over the mountain. I felt good about that. Frank had been right. I heard footsteps behind me and saw what looked to be another NOBO fast approaching. It turned out to be a NOBO named Mainer who finished up last month. He was just out hiking for the day. He said he would see me at the top, offered me a ride to Millinocket afterwards, and flew past towards the summit. The trail really does provide!
I made the last push, and as I reached the summit, Baxter Peak, that iconic wooden sign came into view. I could see Homebound up there, and then Mainer, and I stepped faster, one step at a time, and then I was there. I ran over and kissed the sign. And that was that. 138 days and 2190.9 AT miles later, plus countless more miles from side trails and getting lost, somehow through the kindness and support of others, strangers and loved ones alike, the trail had gotten me here. And what was I to do now? I had finished the trail, but not the journey. This did not come as a surprise. The journey never ends if we keep it alive. I sat up at the summit and thought about this and talked with the guys for a bit. When it was time, I made my way slowly down the mountain, grateful to feel alive.